Thu 19 Jan 2023

How Abiteboul plans to take Hyundai to new heights

Former Renault Formula One team boss Cyril Abiteboul is focused on “bringing everyone together” as he embarks on his new career in the WRC as principal of Hyundai Motorsport.

The Frenchman, who was appointed earlier this month, made his first public appearance in Hyundai colours on Wednesday (18 January) ahead of the FIA World Rally Championship’s opening round at Rallye Monte-Carlo.

Abiteboul brings a wealth of experience to his new role with over 15 years’ experience working in motorsport, namely Formula One. His past positions have included being deputy managing director at Renault Sport F1 and team principal of the Caterham F1 team.

In rallying, though, Abiteboul’s experience is zero – something he’s not afraid to admit. That will all change later this evening when the 2023 season-opener gets underway with two night-time stages.

“I have absolutely no experience [of rallying], let’s be honest,” he admitted. “I have watched the results and a bit of footage at any opportunity, but when you are in any category of motorsport you need to be so focused on what you do. I was extremely focused on Formula One and I will be extremely focused on rallying from now.

“But I would like to believe that I can be a leader from today. I have been spending lots of time with the guys and trying to show them that, you know, I care for them, the company cares for them and we all care for success and for wins.

“We have short, medium and long-term plans and hopefully this is giving the guys a little bit more energy and drive, so hopefully I can start to have an impact from today. Having said that, I have all the humility to know that I need to learn and I will continue to be a learner for months, if not years.”

The facilities at Hyundai Motorsport’s headquarters in Alzenau have so far impressed the 45-year-old. But, while he believes the i20 N Rally1 is good enough to challenge for the manufacturers’ title, Abiteboul has said he wants to try to instil a sense of togetherness within the team.

“I think we’ve got all the right ingredients, but what we need is really a project that can bring all the people together,” he explained. “We’ve got talents, but at the end of the day we need to turn this into a championship-winning team because it’s been winning rallies already.

“I have been in the job only a couple of days, so I can’t be claiming that I have the answers people have been looking for for years or even months – I will also keep that for my team, as you can imagine.

“I think in any organisation where there has been a lack of a clear leader, everybody has taken a bit of their own habits because simply that’s human style. I think we need to have a structure with clear roles, responsibilities and accountability – that will be my main focus in addition to moving from a learner to a leader.

“I think we need a bit of clarification in the short-term, so for that we are talking weeks, and then maybe some improvements to the structure in a few months. But I want to have some changes to the structure fairly quickly.”

Thierry Neuville, Esapekka Lappi and Dani Sordo form a three-car Hyundai entry in Monte-Carlo this week. Craig Breen, who re-signed for the team after a stint at M-Sport Ford, replaces Sordo next month in Sweden.

  • Full coverage from Rallye Monte-Carlo will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.
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